Steamed Mah Lai Ko

After my blog about the failed Mah Lai Ko, my friend, Angie shared with me this tested recipe. Angie loves to cook and I’m sure her recipe works.

I’m quite puzzled with the origin of Mah Lai Ko which has a name which indicates Malay Cake but yet, this is a popular dim sum item in Hong Kong Dim Sum restaurant. Can anyone confirm the origin of the Mah Lai Ko?


The Ma Lai Ko turned out soft and airy. It stays soft even the next day. It is not too sweet and has a great caramel flavour to it. This is a sure keeper. Angie, thank you for sharing the recipe.


  • 180g (about 3/4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 110ml water
  • 75g (about 5 tablespoons) margarine, melted
  • 75ml milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 160g (about 1 cup + 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda


Click on the link below for the instructions.


ma-lai-ko22-300x200In a deep saucer pan, caramelize the sugar until it starts to bubble. Add in the water a little at a time as it will bubbles up very quickly. Cool the syrup in a icy water bath.
ma-lai-ko23-300x200You’ll need 170ml of the golden brown syrup.
ma-lai-ko24-300x200Combine all the rest of the ingredients and place in cake pan for steaming.
ma-lai-ko25-300x200Steam on high heat for 30 minutes. The cake turns out with a nice glossy topping.

Here is simplified version that I tried out later.


I made the simplied version using palm sugar instead of granulated sugar. It turned out pretty good too. The palm sugar just needed to be dissolved in boiling water and does not need carramelization.

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  1. It’s not as golden or light as “regular” mah lai ko. . .is that just a function of the caramelization? Would the recipe stay the same if we didn’t caramelize the sugar to brown?

  2. Suanne

    Hi js, I tried to make it with a simple syrup today, but it turned out not as light and fluffy. It is more dense and has a more ‘eggy’ flavour.

  3. RobynT

    My auntie from Hong Kong says Honolulu has the best dim sum. I think most Hawai’i Chinese are from the area where they speak Cantonese… anyway, I have never seen this cake.

  4. PY

    Thank you for posting the recipe. Follow, the exact instruction and the ‘ko’ turns out really good.

  5. ET

    Dear Suanne, I am a Singaporean working in Guangzhou and just love to try out recipes especially those on traditional favourites. I am a newcomer to your website and happened to try this recipe. It turned out great. The texture is tender but no honeycomb effect. I used round paper cups and instead of having a nice dome shape, the result looked like ‘Fatt Ko’ with a splitting top. Any reason why this has happened? Thanks for sharing the lovely recipe. Regards, ET

  6. jes

    Is the golden brown syrup 170ml(under instruction 2) same as instruction 1 – same ingredient or separate? thanks

    1. Suanne

      Hi jes, the first instruction is to show how to prepare the golden brown syrup. You’ll probably end up with more than 170ml. The 2nd instruction is just to emphasize that you need to measure 170ml of golden brown sugar that you made from instruction 1. Hope this clarify the confusion.

  7. Lee Ling

    Hi, i have just recently discovered your site, love the easy to follow recipes, and found the steamed mah lai ko recipe – one of my favourite Chinese desserts! Many thx. Plan to try it out this week. I’m a M’sian living in S’pore, not sure if anyone has responded to you about why the dessert is so called “Mah Lai” ko, well you see, some recipe use a darker version of palm sugar from Malaysia called gula Melaka, from a mid-southern state of Peninsular of Malaysia; the cake turned out to be browner than the original version, so it was named Mah Lai as in either brown as a Malay or Cake with Sugar from Malaysia. Well, I’m almost convinced this is how the name came about as I heard from someone in Hong Kong :). Thanks again for sharing all the wonder recipes & good eateries!

    Warm regards from Singapore
    Lee Ling

  8. Audrey

    Hi, I had made this mah lai koh unfortunately the topping of was not at all shinning like the above pic.

    Maybe because I over beat the eggs before combining all the ingredients. Does the egg beat using fork for a while only ?

    Also when combining everything, I beat the batter using the manual whisker (egg) for 2 mins.

    Is it when combining all ingredients, dont require to beat and mix long time ??

    My mah lai koh topping was not beautiful, it has like bubbles holes & wrinkles look.

    Although the topping was not good looking, the dessert was commented very delicious by everyone.

    Please advise. Thank you.

    1. Ben

      Hi Audrey, when I made this cake, i just beat until the ingredients combine. I seldom beat the mixture too long unless it is stated in the recipe that it needs to be beaten for a certain time. Hope you get better result next time.

  9. Priscilla

    Hi Audrey,
    when I followed your recipe,I used a rice steamer to cook the cake and it came out perfect.
    Thanks for sharing.

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